At a time when millions of Indians are preparing to cheer their players who will be taking part in the Tokyo Olympic Games, due from July 23, I want to bring forth the case of a player, who won the gold medal at a world championship, brought laurels for India, but is today washing utensils to make both ends meet.
Sunita Devi, who hails from Sisar Khas village of Rohtak district in Haryana, won the gold medal for India in World Strength Lifting Championship in Bangkok last year. She also won the gold medal in National Strength Lifting Championship held in Chhattisgarh in 2019 and the silver medal in the national championship held in West Bengal this year.
Today her family is so poor that she has to work as a domestic help to feed her family. Her father Ishwar Singh works as a daily wage labourer and her mother Jamuna Devi works as a domestic help. A weightlifter, who needs a daily sumptuous diet to work up her energy, is surviving on ‘roti’ and ‘mirch’ (green chillies). Sunita has been using branches of trees and bricks to stay fit for the sport. At marriage parties or social events, she cooks food and washes utensils to earn Rs 500 daily.
A world champion, who is supposed to constantly practise in gyms, is earning a pittance by working as a domestic help. Since her childhood, Sunita dreamed of becoming a world champion, and she worked strenuously towards this end. She has won as many as 20 medals in strength lifting in the last three years.
When her chance came for visiting Bangkok to take part in the world championship, her family had no money. Her father had to take a loan of Rs 1.5 lakh at a high rate of interest to send her to Bangkok, where she became the world champion in her category. On returning home, Sunita hoped that the government might give her rewards and assistance, but all her hopes dashed to the ground. Her family had no money to pay the high rate of interest for the loan taken. Due to lockdown due to pandemic last year, her parents lost their jobs, and the family had to live a life of penury.
In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’, we showed visuals of her dilapidated house built on village panchayat land. We also arranged an exclusive interaction between her and Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju on the show. The minister assured her that he and his ministry would provide her help and guide her in whatever way possible so that she can continue with her sporting career. During the interaction, Sunita told the minister that since strength lifting is not recognized as a sport in Asian Games or Olympics, she failed to get any assistance from the government. She told the minister that she did not opt for weightlifting because it required proper training and a better diet, for which she had no money.
Rijiju said that since sports is in the domain of state governments, he would expect the state government to provide her assistance. The sports minister said, he loved all types of sports, but since strength lifting is not recognized in Olympics, he was bound by rules. Assistance is given to only those players who win medals in Olympic sports. “In spite of this, I will help Sunita and guide her”, Rijiju promised.
I know Kiren Rijiju is a nice person and he would surely help Sunita Devi in achieving her dreams. People of India love their sportspersons, whether Virat Kohli, or Sania Mirza, or Saina Nehwal or P. V. Sindhu or the boxer M. C. Mary Kom. Players like P.T.Usha made their mark in world sports out of sheer energy and dedication. But when he watches players like Sunita Devi failing to achieve their dreams, we feel sad. We must not let them lose hope and help poor players like Sunita Devi with whatever assistance that we can provide.
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